August 19, 2006
a slave by any other name...
If you read my post about Los Pineros, you realize that the existing "guest" worker program is about as hospitable as Cinderella's wicked stepmother. While I'm sure there are plenty of companies that treat their guest workers with fairness and dignity, there are plenty of others exploiting their workers. Because of this, comprehensive reform must include an overhaul of the guest worker program to include job portability. The Southern Poverty Law Center is fighting for this change. They recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of immigrant workers (with honest-to-goodness visas) being exploited by their employer:
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf 82 guest workers, the suit alleges Decatur Hotels, LLC and its president, F. Patrick Quinn III, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when the company failed to reimburse workers for the exorbitant fees they paid to aggressive labor recruiters working as agents for the hotel chain. Decatur owns about a dozen luxury hotels in New Orleans and is one of the largest locally owned hotel chains in Louisiana.
To pay labor recruiters in their home countries, the workers from Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic plunged their families into debt. Recruiters charged workers between $3,500 and $5,000 to take them to New Orleans under the federal government's H-2B guest worker program.
"Four thousand dollars is a lot of money in Peru," said Humberto Jimenez, one of the hotel workers. "I mortgaged my house to work for Patrick Quinn. I came here to make enough money to see my child through college. If I had known the truth I would never have come."
Recruiters under Quinn's employ promised workers 40 hours of work per week and plenty of overtime. Instead, they found themselves working about 25 hours a week, sometimes far less. Under current immigration law, they are bound to their employer and unable to legally work for anyone else.
"They're on a dead-end road," Bauer said. "Their profound debt makes them desperate to work -- but Decatur doesn't give them enough hours. And if they switch jobs, they're breaking the law. In effect, they are captive workers in a situation of virtual debt peonage."
Said Teresa Ortiz, another worker, "It's modern-day slavery. What are my options? I go home to Bolivia, poorer than when I got here and deeper in debt. Or I break the law to find another job."
Tracie Washington, a New Orleans civil rights attorney and co-counsel in the case, said, "This guest worker program is a continuation of the racial exploitation that began with slavery in this country. It's corporate-driven; Decatur profits from it. And it's state-sponsored; the Department of Labor signs off on it."
"These courageous workers are exposing guest worker programs as an opportunity for predatory employers to seek out and exploit cheap labor," said Marielena Hincapie, director of programs at the National Immigration Law Center, which is also co-counsel in the case. As guest worker programs are increasingly seen as the answer to future migration, Hincapie cautioned against expansion of a historically flawed system.
"The solution is for all workers to be afforded decent work opportunities with a living wage in the just reconstruction of the Gulf South," said Washington. full article
August 11, 2006
it is a question of race
In this excellent article by Ruben Navarrette, we see how the Hutchison-Pence proposal reveals the true motives of the immigration hardliners.
SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Immigration restrictionists can be so dishonest.
They've said all along that all they care about is that border security be the first priority of any immigration reform plan and that illegal immigrants not be given amnesty. They insisted that they aren't motivated by racism and that they have no problem with immigrants, if they are here legally.
Now we learn otherwise in light of the opposition to a middle-ground immigration reform plan proposed by two anti-amnesty, pro-border security Republicans: Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
Pence and Hutchison are pragmatists. They came up with this: As the first priority, secure the U.S.-Mexico border. For the first two years after the bill becomes law, the emphasis would be on beefing up the border patrol. Once that happens, it would be up to the president to certify to Congress that the border is secure.
Then we'd move on to goal No. 2: establishment of a guest-worker program that would require millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to return to their home country for a couple of weeks to register at privately run "Ellis Island"-type placement centers, where they would receive temporary work visas that could be renewed every two years for a maximum of 12 years.
At that point, workers convert to a new type of visa. And then, in five years -- or 17 years after enrolling in the program -- we'd move on to goal No. 3 in which workers could apply for U.S. citizenship.
You would think that GOP hard-liners could live with this. You'd be wrong. The Pence-Hutchison plan is under fire. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, criticized it for favoring low-skilled workers and not offering preference to immigrants who speak English.
And, during an interview last week with The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, flirted with nativism when he said that his concern is that the plan would provide "unlimited immigration from Mexico and Central America."
Now we're getting to the heart of the matter.
The Hutchison-Pence plan forces the anti-amnesty crowd to level finally with the rest of us about what really bothers them. If it is that people are here illegally, or that the border isn't secure, then the plan has that covered. But if it's the fear that Anglo-Saxon culture and the English language are being eroded by Spanish-speaking foreigners, and that the country is going down the tubes because of it -- then this plan doesn't offer much relief.
After all, under it, the immigrants get to be legal, but they also get to stay. For some people, that's the real problem. As far as those people are concerned, the Hutchison-Pence plan doesn't offer much comfort.
What it does offer is something this debate could use more of: clarity. link
When this proposal was first mentioned a few weeks ago, I asked several undocumented individuals, "Would you do it?" (Leave temporarily to be reprocessed through an Ellis Island center.) Without exception, their response has been "No."
I'm not a big fan of this proposal. I think it leaves too much room for sabotage by the restrictionists. Here are a few problems I see:
1. Unless the trigger is an either/or situation (i.e., either the border is certified as secure by the president, OR two years -- whichever comes first), we're looking at an indefinite time line. It would be like an endless road trip with a constant peppering of "Are we there yet?"
2. It isn't acceptable to allow our immigrant communities, families and churches to be torn apart for an indeterminate period of time -- ICE will not slow their raids while waiting for border security. Is it okay to continue oppressing a people group until we deem it time to acknowledge their needs and humanity?
3. As efforts to strengthen the borders increase, so will the quantity of illegal crossings. The borders will be flooded by immigrants attempting to cross in order to participate in the guest worker provisions of this bill.
4. Nearly 500 immigrants have died in attempted border crossings each of the past 6 years. How many more mothers, fathers, children will die before legalization measures take effect? How many more needless deaths can you live with?
5. The immigrant community will be very hesitant to trust the process of self-deportation and the "Ellis-Island" centers. This will be compounded as some applying for re-entry will most certainly be denied.
As a complete aside, the quote by Sen. Jeff Sessions in Navarrette's article made me wonder if the suspected terrorists arrested in the U.K. plot speak English -- maybe they're even highly-skilled. Just a thought.
June 22, 2006
los pineros -- men of the pines
A key point in the bill that passed the Senate is "portability" of guest worker status - the right to move to a different company without jeapardizing immigration status. Current guest workers do not have that privilege and many essentially work as indentured servants -- without knowledge of their labor rights.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is currently working on a class action law suit on behalf of many forestry guest workers. Bear in mind that these are legal immigrants -- and this is yet another reason why our broken system must be reformed. In this article, Beneath the Pines: Stories of Migrant Tree Planters you can read first-hand accounts of the abuses endured.
Then watch this PBS video Be our Guest.
The crumbling immigration policy cannot be repaired by politicians filled with self-ambition. It long ago became less about fixing policy and more about fixing an election year. It is tragic -- not necessarily for the taxpayer, but for the human lives that broken laws allow to be abused each day.